With that heading, this post probably doesn’t require a CW, but if you’re not in a place to read about this topic right now, close the tab and don’t scroll down.
This post hasn’t captured everything I want to say, perhaps because it’s too soon, but it’s a start.
A few months ago my son’s friend took his life. Everything about the death of a young person is sad, and suicide makes it even harder to come to terms with. It was a tragic introduction to post-school life for my son and his group of friends. But he’s okay and he will continue to be okay, as will his friends – they have each other and the support of their families.
This has triggered many memories for me. Of the time I was a bereaved family member following the death of my sister in a car accident in 1987, and the loneliness I felt. At the time I most needed support, people I considered friends avoided me. Some left the room if I mentioned my sister; some even blatantly told me they couldn’t cope.
I, the one who’d lost a family member, felt a responsibility to protect others from my grief. And at the blackest time of my life, support dwindled.
Of course there were friends who stepped up to the plate, who had the courage to face me and offer support in those early days, and I’ve never forgotten their kindness.
It has also triggered memories of times in my life when I’ve felt pain to such a degree that it was a comfort to know I could opt out if I wanted, when my thinking was so distorted I thought I’d be doing my family and the world a favour by leaving it.
If you take nothing else away from this post, let it be this: Suicide is a result of mental illness. At its root is depression and deep, uncontrollable pain. Getting angry at someone for taking their life makes as much sense as getting angry at someone for dying of the complications of their diabetes because they couldn’t control their pancreas.
And suicide is not contagious: you will not catch it via a conversation with or holding the hand of a grieving relative. And avoiding them will not protect you from the same thing happening to your family.
Talking about suicide with someone will not put you or them at higher risk. The suicide rate has not increased because we’re talking about it more, as someone tried to tell me recently. Suicide risk increases during periods of socioeconomic stress, like during the Depression, and when people feel isolated. We live in a completely unnatural society these days, disconnected from each other and our village. Maybe if we reached out to people who are struggling instead of avoiding them, we might help lower the rate.
When I hear people say: ‘It’s too much to cope with,’ as an excuse to avoid a grieving family, I want to say, But it’s not about you. This might be the first death you or your child has faced, but it won’t be the last. The road of life isn’t always smooth, and you’re going to have to face these things at some point.
I know it’s hard and I know it takes courage, but it’s not too much to spend time with those who are grieving – you will survive seeing someone cry. You will survive shedding a tear yourself. You might even feel better afterwards. You might feel better, too, for showing someone kindness, compassion and love. And you might make a difference to someone’s life.
What is too much is expecting people to grieve alone.
My son was grief-stricken following his friend’s death and, for a time, felt a degree of guilt, wondering if he could have done something to prevent it. But he knows now that he couldn’t have taken all his friend’s pain away.
He knows, too, that he will be a stronger, kinder young man as a result of having gone through this.
And he will never forget his friend – he will always, always hold a tender place in his heart.
If this post has brought up any issues for you, don’t forget you can always phone Lifeline on 131114.
Beautifully said, Louise. We went through this too, and it’s heartbreaking. There’s no silver lining, but we are all somehow wiser at a very deep level because of it. Yes absolutely re reaching out, and we have to be gentle on ourselves too. xx
Thanks, Katherine. It’s a very hard time for everyone, especially the family. You’re right, people looking after others have to look after themselves – one big circle of everyone looking after everyone else would be lovely!
Accurate, passionate and superbly written, Louise.
Thank you, Margaret. x
Well put Louise, but I’m sorry, I think it doesn’t hurt to point out the suffering that is caused to others, by suicide. For someone contemplating suicide (and I’ve been there so I’m writing from experience) stopping to think of how your action will hurt, maybe destroy, the life of loved ones, can, hopefully be a deterrent. Hopefully give the sufferer time and incentive to seek professional help.
No need to apologise. Yes it might be a deterrent – although people at the point of suicide aren’t thinking rationally and believe that taking themselves out of the picture is doing their loved ones a favour (and I’m writing from experience, too). I don’t know the answer to prevention – I’m talking about the aftermath. And I know that love and compassion go a lot further than anger.
Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Louise. I am so sorry to hear about the tragedy. This last year has given me pause to think about the nature of support, that it can come from less likely sources rather than from those you expect. It has made me reflect on my own actions and inactions, and how it is often easier to be vocal and strident for distant, greater causes, rather than for an individual in need who is right alongside.
Thank you, Robyn. I, too, have reflected on my actions and inactions, as you so aptly describe them, many, many times. It’s hard to be there for someone in pain. But it’s also easy – you just have to be there.
thank you for a beautiful thoughtful post Louise. Grief is such an individual personal thing but also something we all share at some points in our lives. Suicide is another level which I have not personally experienced the aftermath of, and hope I never do, but can only imagine family and friends’ pain. I have experienced grief at the loss of loved ones and I have also seen the wide variety of responses from others. Talking, a hug, a coffee, flowers or a cake – all ways that we can express sympathy at others’ sorrow and you are right, none of these will hurt us!
I’m glad you thought it was beautiful and thoughtful, Denise – it was hard to press publish, and required quite a bit of editing before it said what I wanted to say. Even then, there’s so much more I could write on this topic. Maybe one day … Thank you for reading. 🙂
Beautifully written, Louise. I’ve had two suicides in my family – both male cousins, one on each side of the family, and I was close to neither. However, I am very close to the sister of one of these sad men, and am fully aware of much she still suffers, decades later. It is an extremely hard topic to write about, and you’ve captured the sadness as well as the gentleness, to others and oneself, that’s required to deal with such a loss.
Thanks, Annie. I found this post one of the hardest I’ve ever written. I’m sorry to hear about the losses in your family— I don’t think there’d be a family untouched by it. xx
Gracefully written and with heart. Wishing much solace for all involved x
Thank you. ❤️❤️❤️
This is a very beautiful post, Louise. Thank you for sharing it. Many of us have had our life touched by suicide. Your expression of gratitude to those who supported you when many felt that they could not gives others confidence to reach out.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Helen. I’ve never heard of anyone not appreciating people reaching out to them when they’re grieving, yet we all shy away. I’d love it if this post gives someone the confidence to reach out.
Thankyou Louise, such a loving sensitive post. I hope that all the friends continue to support the family & each other. Despair is soul destroying & we need to look out for each other.💕
Thank you Maureen. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all looked out for each other – I know you do it naturally. x
Thank you for your beautiful and heart-felt words Louise. As the father of Michael, your son’s friend, I would like to express our gratitude for all the people who had the compassion and courage to reach out to us in an amazing expression of love and support. Many of these people we did not know, or had only met briefly before, but the kindness, love and support has helped us cope with the almost unbearable grief. Every person who has offered their words of condolences and support has helped us along this journey. Tracey and I would simply like to say thank you.
This is the most beautiful response, Bruce. You and Tracey are amazing and your courage inspiring. x
Thank you Louise. We lost our 17 year old nephew and you feel you might never come to terms with it. Just opening pathways so that we feel able to discuss it is really the first step and these words of yours touch my heart.. Thank you..
I’m so sorry to hear about your nephew — so very, very sad. I’m thinking of you and your family and his parents and siblings. Sending love. ❤️
When we can’t deal with someone’s grief and avoid them I think we are doing something cruel and selfish. It’s never about us, it’s about those in need. My neighbours lost their son and their grief was one of the worst things I have had to face in my entire life. But you do what you can. It’s always about them. A beautiful post Louise.
You have said it all in one sentence – it is about those at the heart of the grief, always. Good on you for having the courage to show kindness to your neighbours at the worst time of their lives. Sending love to you. x